School's OutGoodbye, farewell, adiós, Freaks and Geeks; we shall lament your departure no more and content ourselves instead with Tuesday-night reruns on the Fox Family Channel, where the occasional unaired episode still pops up like a Christmas present on December 26. But I will forever lament the demise of the best television show about high school, if only because I just sat through three hours of the worst television show about high school: Ally McBeal and The Practice creator David E. Kelley's Boston Public, which debuted October 23 on Fox (which recently canceled another great high-school series, R.J. Cutler's documentary American High). And adding insult to insult is the fact Freaks and Geeks star John Francis Daley (otherwise known as the main geek--or is that freak?--Sam Weir) has a tiny role in Kelley's new series, as a spindly coward constantly getting his ass kicked by the school bully.
The first time we see Daley in the pilot, he's trapped in a locker and dressed only in Huggies; it's hard to tell whether it's more humiliating for the actor or his character, but it's infuriating either way. On Freaks, Daley was one of TV's most genuine creations, an awkward, thoughtful child on the precipice of young adulthood; he played Dungeons & Dragons and longed for a single kiss from Cindy, the girl of his dreams (at least until he discovered she didn't find The Jerk funny), and he could never shake that look that was somewhere between fear and bewilderment. In Boston Public, Daley is nothing more than a punch line, a punching bag. It's a shame--which is ironic, since Kelley seems to have no shame. He's created a show about high school and aimed it squarely at the Ally McBeal demographic; kids'll watch it and think it's just plain whack--an old man's after-school special, complete with Fyvush Finkel as the doddering, fascistic social studies teacher who, quite simply, is no Mr. Hand. (In one episode, he tells his female students to wear a bra "for the good of the country.")
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In the first episode, just about every teacher at the cozily decorated Winslow High School does or says something that would get him or her fired, if not prosecuted (say, firing off a gun in a classroom...ya know, to make a point about violence in schools). When they're not lecturing the girls about the necessities of wearing a bra, chastising students for illicit Web sites that show teachers defecating in their own mouths, sleeping with students (they don't call him Nicky Katt for nothing), or violently confronting school bullies, the teachers are proselytizing to the students and, more often, each other. "They don't want to learn," says one teacher (played, if not overplayed, by Loretta Divine) to Principal Steve Harper (Chi McBride, poor guy), after she runs screaming from a classroom overrun by hip-hoppers. "They don't want to listen. I'm not a parole officer. I'm a teacher, for God's sake!" Apparently no one told Kelley that there's already been one failed series based on wife Michelle Pfeiffer's 1995 movie Dangerous Minds (which also starred Courtney B. Vance, who appeared in the Boston Public pilot as the father of a football player nearly benched for bad grades, a plot device straight out of the high-school TV show playbook). Come back, Annie Potts, all is forgotten.